MLB provided fans with everything they could hope for on Friday behind four postseason games that captured everything wonderful about baseball in October.
It began with dominant pitching performances by an all-time great in Justin Verlander and future star Tyler Glasnow. Outstanding pitching proved to be the theme shortly after when the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals battled it out in an incredible pitcher’s duel.
The evening slate of playoff action featured two record-breaking lineups squaring off for a slug fest in Yankee Stadium. Then the Washington Nationals returned to Dodger Stadium for Game 2 and took advantage of Clayton Kershaw’s old demons returning.
On a night full of big performances and some costly letdowns by key players, here are seven things we learned from Friday’s postseason action
Justin Verlander takes it to another level in October
Houston turned to its future Hall of Famer to open the ALDS and Verlander showed why he might be one of the best starting pitchers ever. He allowed a leadoff walk to begin the game then “Verlander’d” the Rays’ hitters.
Verlander picked apart the strike zone on Friday with a postseason pitching clinic. He struck out eight across seven shutout innings and allowed just three batted balls with an exit velocity over 95 mph. Of course, this is typical for Verlander in the ALDS given he entered with a 2.38 ERA across 64.1 career inning in the division series.
Tampa Bay’s young roster isn’t quite ready for this moment
The Rays earned their spot in the postseason and its an even greater accomplishment given they operate with MLB’s lowest payroll. It just became clear in Game 1 that this is a young team that needs time to grow before it can compete with Houston.
Tyler Glasnow flashed the future stuff of a Cy Young winner, however, he also allowed a lot of loud contact and the game-changing home run to Jose Altuve. Meaanwhile, 25-year-old second baseman Brandon Lowe and 24-year-old Austin Meadows each played a role in an epic blunder that allowed two runs to score. Pair all of that with a lineup that got one hit off Verlander and it becomes clear how much growing this team must do.
Mike Foltynewicz’s mechanical tweaks in the minors paid off
No one thought we’d be here when Atlanta sent Foltynewicz down to the minors on June 23 with a 6.37 ERA. More than three months after working through a number of issues in the minors, he brought his best stuff in Atlanta’s Game 2 win.
The righty twirled a gem across seven innings. He allowed three hits, all singles, and struck out seven batters with zero walks. Incredibly, Foltynewicz needed only 81 pitches and could have stayed in for the eighth if Atlanta didn’t need Adam Duvall’s pinch-hit, two-run blast in the seventh. The Braves desperately needed him to eat innings after its Game 1 pitching disaster and Foltynewicz thrived in the moment.
Twins’ pitching will cost them the series
We knew Minnesota’s lineup could hang around with the Yankees and make this a series. This matchup would come down to the Twins’ pitching staff and it’s now clear they will sink this team in the ALDS.
José Berríos lasted just four innings and forced manager Rocco Baldelli to go to his bullpen early. He turned to young relievers Zack Littell and Cody Stashak, who crumbled in their postseason debuts with four runs allowed in two innings. Now the Twins have burned their best pitcher, ate through the bullpen and trail in the series. Perhaps the front office should have done more to address this at the trade deadline.
Gleyber Torres is only tapping into his MVP-caliber potential
New York’s scouting department dreamed of Torres becoming an All-Star infielder when it acquired him in 2016. Now we might be seeing the early stages of him becoming an MVP-caliber player and a postseason hero.
While Torres only got one hit on the night, it was the most important of the night. The 22-year-old came through in a tie game with a two-run double to snag momentum and fuel the raucous crowd at Yankee Stadium. Even bigger games are coming this October for Torres and that should terrify every pitcher facing New York.
Stephen Strasburg is earning a blank check this offseason
We could only watch in admiration as Strasburg made his first professional relief appearance in the wild-card game and threw three shutout innings. He made that look like nothing with this dominant road performance on only two days’ rest.
It would have been perfectly excusable if he struggled under the circumstances. But on Friday night, Strasburg threw a masterpiece over six innings with 10 strikeouts and three base runners allowed.
He can opt-out of the final four-years and $100 million left on his deal after the season. Strasburg’s resume proves he deserves an even larger deal.
“Playoff Kershaw” is back to haunt the Dodgers’ World Series aspirations
The demons have returned. After pitching brilliantly throughout the 2019 season, the calendar flipped to October and Kershaw’s postseason woes returned. He struggled mightily in the first inning and fans’ concerns proved legitimate when he allowed two more runs in the second.
This isn’t an issue that could derail Los Angeles in the NLDS, they’ll likely get by the Nationals and likely make it through the NLCS. It’s a significant concern though for a potential matchup against Houston or New York. If Kershaw can’t turn things around, it could lead to three consecutive disappointments for Los Angeles in the World Series.